All of the Microsoft Paint doodles that you created in the 1980s have been lost to the ages, and in all likelihood, nobody much cares. But that’s just because you’re not Andy Warhol. When New York artist Cory Arcangel recently learned that Warhol had experimented with art-making on an Amiga 1000—a 1985 computer with graphics capabilities that outclassed other PCs of the era—he cared very much indeed. So with the permission of the Andy Warhol museum, Arcangel recruited members of Carnegie Mellon’s Computer Club and other experts to examine a decrepit stack of floppies for remnants of the pop artist’s work.
In their search, the Carnegie Mellon team members discovered that, rather than using blank floppies, Warhol simply saved his work on application disks that were lying around—his penchant for reappropriation extended even to the realm of data, apparently. Sifting through those scattered floppies almost 30 years later was a complex and touchy task, with disks so fragile that even attempting to read them could destroy them. But with patience, the forensic experts hit paydirt, as a Carnegie Mellon press release explains:
It was not known in advance whether any of Warhol’s imagery existed on the floppy disks—nearly all of which were system and application diskettes onto which, the team later discovered, Warhol had saved his own data. Reviewing the disks’ directory listings, the team’s initial excitement on seeing promising filenames like “campbells.pic” and “marilyn1.pic” quickly turned to dismay, when it emerged that the files were stored in a completely unknown file format, unrecognized by any utility. Soon afterwards, however, the Club’s forensics experts had reverse-engineered the unfamiliar format, unveiling 28 never-before-seen digital images that were judged to be in Warhol’s style by the AWM’s experts. At least eleven of these images featured Warhol’s signature.
The Warhol Museum released three of those 28 images: a self-portrait, a Campbell’s soup can sketch, and a three-eyed Venus. A Boing Boing commenter noted that while Botticelli’s The Birth Of Venus was a favorite Warhol subject, the base image was probably created by computer illustrator Avril Harrison—note the “A.H.” signature. Warhol likely added the whimsical third eye, which Carnegie Mellon somewhat preciously describes as an “amazing” act of “copy-paste collage.” (Where’s the fawning press release for the inspired lasso-tool pastiche technique of our own Sean O’Neal?)
Warhol, who died in 1987, was an early adopter of the Amiga. He even appeared at the computer’s unveiling event to create a portrait of Deborah Harry, which is the most 1985 moment in recorded history.